This terror will continue until we take Arab grievances seriously
Our focus must now be on the conditions that allow Bin Ladenists to
recruit and operate
David Clark
  David Clark is a former Labour government adviser

Saturday July 09 2005
The Guardian

It must now be obvious, even to those who would like us to think
otherwise, that the war on terror is failing. This is not to say that
the terrorists are winning. Their prospects of constructing the
medieval pan-Islamic caliphate of their fantasies are as negligible
today as they were four years ago when they attacked America. It is
simply to point out that their ability to bring violence and
destruction to our streets is as strong as ever and shows no sign of
diminishing. We may capture the perpetrators of Thursday's bombings,
but others will follow to take their place. Moreover, the actions of
our leaders have made this more likely, not less. It's time for a

The very idea of a war on terror was profoundly misconceived from the
start. Rooted in traditional strategic thought, with its need for
fixed targets and an identifiable enemy, the post-9/11 response
focused myopically on the problem of how and where to apply military
power. Once the obvious and necessary task of tackling Bin Laden's
presence in Afghanistan had been completed, those charged with
prosecuting the war needed a new target to aim at.

In his book Against All Enemies, the former White House
counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke chronicles the inability of
senior administration officials to grasp the nature of the threat
directed against them. Even before 9/11 they were fixated with the
notion that behind a successful terrorist network like al-Qaida must
be state sponsorship; destroy the state, destroy the threat, ran the
theory. In this environment it was easy for the neoconservatives to
win approval for their prefabricated plan to attack Iraq.

But al-Qaida has never depended on state sponsorship, except in the
wholly unintended sense that the US-funded campaign against the
Soviet occupation of Afghanistan brought its members together and
gave them their first taste of jihad. Indeed it is a mistake even to
regard al-Qaida as an organisation in the traditional sense of the
term. At most it is now little more than an idea, fusing ideology
with operational method, both of which can be accessed freely via the
internet. It is quite meaningless to talk about destroying the
"terrorist infrastructure", unless we propose to carpet bomb
Microsoft. We have entered   the era of do-it-yourself terrorism.

Bin Laden must be brought to justice, but he has become a strategic
irrelevance in the struggle against terrorism. Wherever he is - on
the run in the badlands of Waziristan or holed up in someone's cellar
- he is not directing operations. He doesn't need to. He has provided
the inspiration and example for a new generation of terrorists who
have never been to his training camps in Afghanistan and whose only
connection to al-Qaida is a shared desire to lash out at the west.

It should be clear by now that we cannot defeat this threat with
conventional force alone, however necessary that may be in specific
circumstances. Even good policing, as we have found to our cost, will
have only limited effect in reducing its   capacity to harm. The
opposite response - negotiation - is equally futile. How can you
negotiate with a phenomenon that is so elusive and diffuse? And even
if you could, what prospect would there be of reaching a reasonable
settlement? The term "Islamofascism" may be a crude political device,
but those who coined it are right to see in Bin Ladenism a classic
totalitarian doctrine that accepts no limits in method or aim. What
they want, we cannot give.

An effective strategy can be developed, but it means turning our
attention away from the terrorists and on to the conditions that
allow them to recruit and operate. No sustained insurgency can exist
in a vacuum. At a minimum, it requires communities where the
environment is permissive enough for insurgents to blend in and
organise without fear of betrayal. This does not mean that most
members of those communities approve of what they are doing. It is
enough that there should be a degree of alienation sufficient to
create a presumption against cooperating with the authorities. We saw
this in Northern Ireland.

 From this point of view, it must be said that everything that has
followed the fall of Kabul has been ruinous to the task of winning
over moderate Muslim opinion and isolating the terrorists within
their own communities. In Iraq we allowed America to rip up the rule
book of counter-insurgency with a military adventure that was
dishonestly conceived and incompetently executed. Tens of thousands
of innocent Iraqis have been killed by US troops uninterested in
distinguishing between combatant and noncombatant, or even counting
the dead. The hostility engendered has been so extreme that the CIA
has been forced to conclude that Iraq may become a worse breeding
ground for international terrorism that Afghanistan was. Bin Laden
can hardly believe his luck.

The political dimensions of this problem mean that there can be no
hope of defeating terrorism until we are ready to take legitimate
Arab grievances seriously. We must start by acknowledging that their
long history of engagement with the west is one that has left many
Arabs feeling humiliated and used. There is more to this than finding
a way of bringing the   occupation of Iraq to an end. We cannot
seriously claim to care for the rights of Arabs living in Iraq when
it is obvious that we care so little for Arabs living in Palestine.
The Palestinians need a viable state, but all the indications suggest
that the Bush administration is preparing to bounce the Palestinians
into accepting a truncated entity that will lack the basic
characteristics of either viability or statehood. That must not be
allowed to succeed.

At its inception post-9/11, the war on terror was shaped by the fact
that it was American blood that had been shed. This gave President
Bush the moral authority to tell the world "you're either with us or
against us". Having stood with America, and paid a terrible price for
doing so, it is now time to turn that demand back on Bush. We have a
vital national interest in defeating terrorism and we must have a
greater say in how that is done. The current approach is failing and
it's time for a change. If Tony Blair cannot bring himself to say
this, he owes it to his country to make way for someone who can.

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